For all their recent disagreements, Israel and the United States share a common view of the Palestinians. They have jointly affirmed their resolve to coax the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) to the negotiating table, while ignoring Hamas. This is a policy that has now lasted close to four years—with, by and large, the support of the international community. Hamas, it is commonly agreed, will only make an acceptable partner for negotiation if it undergoes an ideological transformation, a transformation that is very unlikely to ever occur.Efraim Halevy is a former head of Mossad. As soon as I read that, I could see where his thinking is coming from. I don't dare think I'm more intelligent than a man who lead one of the most feared spy agencies on the planet. He'll have a tome full of reasons why this policy may/will work. I simply wish to make a point that bringing Hamas to the table legitimizes it. To legitimize a terror group, like Lebanon has with Hizbullah, only makes it hungrier for power, as Hizbullah has proven. I can see the advantages of bringing Hamas to the table, as Halevy says "this is worth putting to the test", but the risks are high as well.
But now might be the right time to reconsider this policy, especially in light of the recent behavior of the PA. To take one recent example: When the Israeli cabinet recently designated two sites in Hebron and Bethlehem to be preserved as national heritage landmarks, the PA joined Hamas in issuing inflammatory statements exhorting the populace to demonstrate against the Jewish appropriation of Muslim holy sites. Stone throwing and violence quickly ensued. Abu Mazen, the self-styled moderate president of the PA, provocatively warned of an impending religious war. Only a stern warning sent by Israeli security authorities brought the “moderate” Palestinian leadership to its senses. And even then, it was only the Israelis who were capable of becalming Jerusalem and the West Bank, with sustained and daily operations in Palestinian-controlled areas. In a time of crisis, the shortcomings of the ruling Palestinians were exposed.
Before President Obama and Premier Netanyahu proceed to negotiate with their dispirited Palestinian interlocutors, why not reconsider the options? Bringing Hamas to the table could relieve pressure on the Palestinians—who would no longer need to worry about the Islamists attacking their credibility. It might create space for a less ideological approach to peacemaking, and it might allow for the negotiation of a more achievable agreement with Israel. Why not hammer out a temporary arrangement between the three sides that would, say, extend for 25 years with a clause for renewal? Such an agreement would make for a practical second-best outcome--a durable interim understanding.
Current policy, after all, sends Hamas the signal that it is doomed to exclusion come what may and forever. But the more that Hamas is permitted inside the tent, the better the prospects of a modest (yet historic) success. Of course, there will be those who say this is impossible. They will say Hamas is inhuman, and why would the Iranians ever allow this? The answer is that Fatah hardly behaves much better than Hamas. Besides, Fatah has limited ability to deliver any sort of peace without the consent of Hamas. As far as the Iranians go, once you start talking with Hamas, you soon discover how much they hate the guts of those renegade Shiites in Tehran. I could be wrong about all of this. But given the unworkable alternatives, surely this is worth putting to the test.
My idea is to re-legitimize and prop up the PA as much as possible, grind on negotiations with them and have them declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank. This would totally undercut Hamas' legitimacy to the cause of a Palestinian state and, hopefully, create enough schism within Hamas between hardliners and tag-a-longs to allow for the PA to reoccupy Gaza. Risky, yes, but as much risk as I see in making Hamas a real partner for peace. Peace to Hamas has always been the destruction of Israel from top to bottom. Not a very good negotiating position, at least when the goal is to end a war going on for almost 70 years.